Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Heartbreaking Conclusions" on Memorial Day

Anthony Martini of Chicago mourns his brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Philip Martini, at a Memorial Day weekend display in the city’s Grant Park, where 3,400 pairs of combat boots representing the U.S. military death toll in Iraq covered an area the size of two football fields.

Cindy Sheehan, the California Catholic mom, who became "the face of the American anti-war movement" after her 24-year-old son Casey , a former altar boy, was killed in Baghdad, announced on Memorial Day that she had come to some "heartbreaking conclusions."

"Good-bye America," she said, in what she described as a "resignation letter" in her online blog. "You are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it." She concluded: "It's up to you now."

Sheehan did not go gently into the dark night of retirement. Casey, she said, "did indeed die for nothing...killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think." The final straw for her was seeing the Democrats cave in to George Bush. Rather than sacrificing his life for a cause, Sheehan said he died for a country that "cares more about who will be the next American idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives."

Sheehan did not fade away like an old soldier. Criticizing blind party loyalty on whichever side, she called the current two-party system "corrupt" and said it was sliding, without checks and balances, into a "fascist corporate wasteland."

Camp Casey, which she established two years ago down the road from the President's home, is up for sale. Sheehan, whose 29-year-marriage ended during her crusade, said she was going home "for awhile to try and be normal."

Cindy Sheehan was not the only parent to publicly mourn their loss on Memorial Day with strong words for the government responsible for their death. Andrew Bacevich, a historian at Boston University, writes in the Washington Post a heartbreaking account about his son who died two weeks ago after a suicide bomb explosion in Iraq. Bacevich has been an outspoken critic of George Bush and the Iraq war. Describing himself as a Catholic conservative when he first began his career as a public intellectual, Bacevich writes that he "genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond. This, I can now see, was an illusion."
The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."
After his son died, Bacevich's state senators Kennedy and Kerry telephoned their condolences. His congressman attended the wake and Kerry the funeral mass. Such gestures were appreciated. "But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff," Bacevich writes. "More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me."
To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove -- namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.

Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

Like Sheehan, Bacevich is fed up with politics as usual. "Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels...It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent." This is not some great conspiracy, Bacevich concludes; it is the way our system works.

Two columnists in the New York Times, writing over the weekend, had equally critical comments about the system that would allow Bush & Company to ride roughshod over American democracy. "The nightmare of the Bush years won't really be over," declares Paul Krugman, " until politicians are convinced that voters will punish, not reward, Bush-style fear-mongering. And that hasn't happened yet."

Despite the voice of the voters last November, Congress seems powerless to stop the epic disaster that is Iraq. Krugman quotes outlandlish lies about Iraq from Republic presidential hopefuls Giuliani, Romney and McCain who hope to portray the Democrats as being weak on terrorism and not supporting the troops. Bush resurrects Osama as the demon to be defeated, neglecting to admit that he had nothing to do with Saddam, the how deceased demon.

"Until belligerent, uninformed posturing starts being treated with the contempt it deserves," writes Krugman, "men who know nothing of the cost of war will keep sending other people's children to graves at Arlington," the sons of Sheehan and Bacevich among them.

Frank Rich, another voice of reason in the Times, wrote last Sunday about the hypocrisy of blaming the victim in Iraq. Bush & Company claim to have brought freedom and democracy to Iraq, and now that the occupation is going badly, "the war's dead-enders are pinning the fiasco on the Iraqis themselves."
Iraqis are clamoring to get out of Iraq. Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That’s a total of some 15 percent of the population.) Save the Children reported this month that Iraq’s child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation’s. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5. Yet for all the words President Bush has lavished on Darfur and AIDS in Africa, there has been a deadly silence from him about what’s happening in the country he gave “God’s gift of freedom.”
Calling it the worst humaitarian crisis in the Middle East since 1948, Rich points out how the doors to our country have been shut to escaping Iraqis, just as the Jews were denied admittance even when the Holocaust was known. Thousands of Iraqis who have worked for our side (5,000 as interpreters alone) have "an assassin's bull's-eye on their backs," in Sen. Kennedy's phraseology, but only 69 have been given sanctuary here in the last seven months. Recently Congress voted to admit another 500 this year.

The administration's assistant secretary in charge of refugees at the State Department, Rich tells us, "is a twice-defeated Republican candidate for governor of Maryland with no experience in humanitarian crises but a hefty resumé in anti-abortion politics. She is to Iraqis seeking rescue what Brownie was to Katrina victims stranded in the Superdome."

Bush's position is that it's the Iraqis fault, a "blame and run" policy Zbigniew Brzezinski called it. "The Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude," the President said, and wondered aloud "whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq." Neocon cheerleader Charles Krauthammer wrote: "We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war." Bad Iraqis, bad Iraqis.

The message is clear, Rich writes. "These ungrateful losers deserve everything that's come to them. The Iraqis hear us and are returning the compliment...The American-Iraqi shotgun marriage of convenience, midwifed by disastrous Bush foreign policy, has disintegrated into the marriage from hell. While the world waits for the White House and Congress to negotiate the separation agreement, the damage to the innocent family members caught in the cross-fire is only getting worse." This is not a metaphor to Sheehan and Bacevich.

We had our own Memorial Day celebration in Santa Cruz yesterday. Organized by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, with help from a variety of peace organiztios including Pax Christi and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom," several hundred residents, wearing mostly white or black and carrying flowers, gathered in Mission Plaza under foggy skies for a Silent Memorial Peace Walk. The ecumenical gathering including representatives from many faith traditions -- Catholic and Protestants, Hindus and Buddhist, Muslim and Jew, Unitarian and Quaker, as well as secularists and even atheists. Carrying Buddhist prayer flags, banners and flags, the group walked three abrest down Pacific Avenue to Cathcart and back up the other side, communicating its respect for the dead, from every side in war, with its silence. At the top of Pacific, the left their flowers in front of the War Memorial which was built in the 1920s to commemorate the dead from World War One, the "war to end all wars." Tourists who had come to celebrate another holiday in the stores and on the beach were given something else to think about. Returning back to Mission Plaza, representatives from different religious and peace groups read the names of Iraqis and local residents killed in the Iraqi tragedy to the ringing of a meditation bell, against the backdrop of a huge scroll 250 feet long depicting symbolically the names of 66,000 Iraqis killed in the war (even at that, an absurdly low number). They included Basma Zaha, aPalestinian Muslim woman from Watsonville (see the photo above), Ann Simonton of Women in Black, April Burns from the GI Rights Hotline, Nancy Abbey, of Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, Father Joel Miller, Episcopal priest from Calvary Episcopal Church, Reb Chaim Leib (Howie Schneider) of Chadeish Yameinu, Jewish Renewal Community of Santa Cruz, and Mel Nunez from Pax Christi.

My friends, these are perilous times and no amount of spinning and pontificating will make the significance any less. The barbarians are within the gates, and there is no savior atop a white horse on the horizon ready to make it all better. We may indeed be living during the last days of the decline and fall of the American Empire. My current personal solution for this disaster is to cut and run, to fly off to Thailand where I will live in exile, scanning the web for the latest bad news. I will not forget you, but I can no longer play fiddle on the deck of the Titanic. Will more ceremonies like the above, more vigils, more protests, keep the ship afloat? I wish I believed in them, but my political faith now is as fragile as my religious. The ship, my friends, is sinking. Prudence rather than prayer seems appropriate to me.

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